by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte
The closest of friends - After our publication of Spokane's Legendary Davenport Hotel, we received all kinds of letters detailing people's individual memories. But around mid-February, 2002, we received one that led to a new cache of Davenport history. It began:
I recently finished viewing the tape and reading your book on Spokane's Legendary Davenport Hotel. Thanks to your research and reporting, I learned several things about the early development of the hotel and the Davenports that I did not know. Since my family and I were close professional and personal friends of L.M. and Verus Davenport during the 1920s, '30s and '40s, I was a little surprised your research did not mention that. As Paul Harvey, the well-known radio commentator would say: "Here's the rest of the story."
This letter was written by Robert Bird Stauffer, of Gig Harbor, Wash., who described his boyhood in Spokane, during which time he lived with his aunt and uncle, Sue and John Ten Broeck Bird, M.D. Interestingly, Stauffer set forth the claim that the Davenports and Birds were best friends. This piqued our curiosity and presented a bit of a challenge since the Davenports had a wide social circle. We decided to investigate. Our conclusion did, in fact, confirm that their relationship was especially close.
The rest of the story - In 1920, following his service as a medical officer during World War I, Dr. Bird moved to Spokane. In this city of about 125,000, he quickly established himself as a reputable specialist in internal medicine who was sought out by many prominent Spokane people as both a family doctor and friend. Among those were Louis and Verus Davenport.
In 1928, at the age of seven, Bob Stauffer moved from Oklahoma to Spokane to stay with his aunt and uncle for a year. Because his family was experiencing financial difficulties, his mother (Sue Bird's sister) arranged for him to live with the Birds, whom she felt could give him a much better life. Following his mother's death in 1933 while giving birth to his younger sister, he returned to live with the Birds permanently.
The best description of the Davenport-Bird friendship came from Bob Stauffer's letter:
"During the next 20 years [following his arrival in 1928], my uncle not only provided medical service to the Davenports, but we, as a family, spent many personal-pleasant times with them. Some were at "Flowerfield," Davenport's "Little Spokane River" country home. (I still have old useable 16 mm movie films of those times, showing the Davenports in the pictures.)
"Mrs. Davenport (Verus) took me at age 8/9 to Cannon Hill Park in Spokane to learn to ice skate. The Davenports also bought me my first bicycle [which had every accessory imaginable on it, but Bob quickly removed them to fit in with the other boys] and Verus gave me several driving lessons to qualify me for my first driving license in 1937. Lewis Davenport II was also my friend -- I still have a book and note he gave me for a birthday.
"My aunt (Sue) and Dr. Bird spent several vacations with the Davenports at their California home, and in 1936 they went through the Panama Canal...
"From 1936-1943, the Davenports let me work at the hotel (first as a page with "Ham" LaFarr [sic], then as a bellman during the summers. I worked my way through WSC doing that."
Sometimes, the best gauge of friendship becomes evident after life. This appears to be true with these friends. The Birds and Davenports are buried side by side in an inconspicuous section of Spokane's Riverside Memorial Park. The headstones from east to west read: Betty Stauffer (Bob Stauffer's mother) 1892-1933, Sue Bird 1887-1939, Dr. John Ten Broeck Bird 1882-1949, Lewis Davenport 1907-1987, Kathleen Davenport (Lewis's wife) 1907-1986, Verus Davenport 1878-1967, Louis M. Davenport 1868-1951, Minnie Davenport (L.M. Davenport's mother) 1848-1924 and Maud (Smith, Pennington) Hollis 1879-1935. (Maud, for whom the Pennington Hotel was named, was Verus Davenport's sister.)
davenport Home movies - In 1923, the Eastman Kodak Company made amateur motion pictures practical. This came about with Kodak's introduction of the 16mm safety film, the first 16mm Cine-Kodak motion picture camera, and the Kodascope movie projector. Although quite expensive, the potential for "home movies" became an immediate success with those who could afford them.
Sometime in the mid-1920s, Dr. Bird and Louis Davenport each purchased new 16mm Cine-Kodak motion picture cameras. To this date no film has surfaced from the Davenport family's 16mm camera. The Davenports' only grandson, Louie Davenport III, doesn't recall the family having a motion picture camera, but Bob Stauffer still has his Uncle John Bird's camera, projector and a collection of "home movies" his uncle filmed. Fortunately, among this collection is the only known movie footage of the Davenport family. This film, which includes two rather significant scenes, was shot about 1928 at Flowerfield, the Davenports' summer home. In the first, Verus Davenport and young Bob Stauffer, unaware they are being filmed, are standing on a bridge feeding ducks. Suddenly, Verus spots Dr. Bird's camera and literally runs away from it. In the second scene, Dr. Bird is shooting Lewis Davenport Jr. capturing his father, Louis, on film. During this encounter, Louis Davenport is smoking a cigar and backing away from Lewis's movie camera. As he becomes aware of Dr. Bird's camera, he quickly moves out of its range. The footage is consistent with the Davenports' known aversion to having their photographs taken.
See it for yourself - On August 1, 2002, at 8 pm, KSPS channel 7 television will be airing a one-hour film documentary by producer Tom McArthur, entitled The Davenport Hotel - Grand Again. This film, hosted by Ellen Travolta, will include approximately two minutes of this rare Davenport footage.
A second opportunity to view this footage will follow the Davenport Hotel's completed restoration. Robin Briley and Jim Bolser, producers of the documentary videos Spokane's Legendary Davenport Hotel and a new release, Liberty Lake: Spokane's Inland Seashore, will update their Davenport video to include the September grand opening and this same rare 1928 film footage of the Davenport family. That video will be available sometime later this fall.
Tony and Suzanne Bamonte are authors of Spokane's Legendary Davenport Hotel, along with other history books focusing on Manito Park and Miss Spokane.